Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Boundaries, Archives, Fragments

The archive of the exhibition is neither complete, nor cohesive - but this is a characteristic of the archive, a device which fragments, selects...and therefore discards...particular traces. The archive is a 'boundary of knowability', rather than the uncontested truth of history. We are, now, beginning to recognise the objects of the archive as such 'traces' and 'fragments'. Rebecca Wade's discussion of the archive of the 1839 Leeds Public Exhibition highlights just these complex facts.

Much of what is saved in archives is the 'officially sanctioned' version. They are records of the power and authority of particular individuals. Where, though, are the other voices? Are there less official resources? Such questions, importantly, do not negate the importance of the offical archive - all material traces are shot through with bias, and it is the recognition of this which validates them as historical records rather than as fiction or propaganda.

This, it is, that the historian must recognise and use. The link between fiction and history, between the storyteller and the historian is deep. Their methodologies and products are often very similar, and even their political and social aims may be seen as such. It is their deployment and reception, however, which is different. Ideologies always impact upon any presentation and there is always a fictive element in any historical construction - documentary and physically reconstructive.

The documentation of transient events can never rebuild the events themselves. Through neither the memories of the perceiver nor officially recorded reports can the in-the-moment-ness of the event ever be recalled. These memories are objects - but they are, as I have said here before, not substitutes for the 'original', but are 'originals' in themselves.

When, where and how does history become fiction, does fiction become myth? When does the document become an object itself? As I was discussing with Kostas over lunch, where does the simulation become an object in its own right and how do we or should we recognise it as such?

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